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The Legal Aspects Behind Artificial Intelligence

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Where Artificial Intelligence and the law meet.
Where Artificial Intelligence and the law meet.

There are various definitions of Artificial Intelligence and it seems to be cropping up in just about every conversation these days. I like to think about it as Artificial Intelligence (AI) being the concept of machines’ ability to carry out tasks in an intelligent manner, with Machine Learning (ML) being a subset of AI (which allows machines to digest data and through the process, learn for themselves).

There should be no doubt that AI can and will dramatically change the way legal services are delivered. Will it happen overnight? Probably not. But does it have the ability to drastically reduce the number of hours spent (and costs associated with) trawling through hundreds of documents to summarise or review for relevance? Absolutely.

Webber Wentzel has invested quite heavily in the research and development of AI application. Our alliance partner, Linklaters LLP, has recently launched Nakhoda, an AI backed data analysis and extraction tool. We have had the privilege of working with Linklaters and Nakhoda and have experienced the value of such a tool on high volume matters, which would traditionally have been done by a large team in a more manual fashion. Nakhoda and similar tools such as RAVN and Kira allow us to process high volumes of documents in an efficient, effective and cost-appropriate manner. Combining an automated review process with our legal specialists provides our clients with a world class, modern-day legal services product. It also improves job satisfaction for our lawyers who may not always want to spend days on end reviewing documents, and frees up their time to focus on the application of law as opposed to the processing of administrative tasks underlying legal services.

To mention a few examples of popular use cases within law firms:

Technology Assisted Review (TAR) already forms part of most e-discovery platforms used during dispute resolution. TAR allows legal teams to review and categorise a sample set of a larger data set, with the system then using the sample set’s results to train itself, subsequently categorising the remainder of the data set according to the patterns it detected. While this is not a substitution for human review, it does allow the legal team to prioritise certain documents based on the system’s initial review.

Through the use of a tool such as Neota Logic or IBM’s Watson, legal teams can create rules based on specific legislation or a regulatory environment. The system reviews documents against these rules and provides a compliance report on each. Further steps can be programmed to also populate further documents or amendments based on the report outcomes.

While we are fortunate to be in collaboration with Linklaters and Nakhoda, we appreciate that not all law firms or legal departments have access to leading AI platforms. In practice, the application of AI tools is still expensive and as such, not suitable to all matters. That said, we expect costs to decrease considerably over the next two years as more AI providers enter the market, making it more affordable and beneficial to use.

AI does not come without its challenges – you will find many articles on potential job losses. Gartner forecasts that a third of current jobs will be automated by 2025. I think one has to bear in mind that with new technology and underlying platforms also come new skills requirements. As an example, 20 years ago one was hardly aware of ‘application developers’. In the legal industry we are seeing new roles taking shape such as legal assistants, legal technologists and legal project managers. While there may come a noticeable shift from practising lawyers to these more alternative roles, we do not expect this to lead to reduction in jobs in the legal industry in general but rather a wider variety of career options – many we probably cannot even comprehend yet.

There are many demands on lawyers’ time which makes continuous training on new legal technology platforms increasingly challenging. In November 2016, Webber Wentzel launched the Legal Services Centre to support our lawyers and clients through continuous efficiency improvement, which includes expertise support on the likes of AI and legal technology applications, legal project management and alternative/ flexible resourcing.

I am excited by the technological changes we see happening in the global and local legal industry, and would invite those who share these interests to discuss their ideas and use cases with us to see how we can collaborate, to the benefit of the South African legal services industry.

by Safiyya Patel, a Partner and heads the Corporate Practice at Webber Wentzel

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